An electronic database called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) has created defects in the chain of title to over half the homes in America. Counties have been cheated out of millions of dollars in recording fees, and their title records are in hopeless disarray. Meanwhile, foreclosed and abandoned homes are blighting neighborhoods. Straightening out the records and restoring the homes to occupancy is clearly in the public interest, and the burden is on local government to do it. But how?
The legal tide is turning against MERS and the banks, giving rise to some interesting possibilities for relief at the county level. Local governments have the power of eminent domain: they can seize real or personal property if (a) they can show that doing so is in the public interest, and (b) the owner is compensated at fair market value.
The public interest part is easy to show. In a 20-page booklet titled "Revitalizing Foreclosed Properties with Land Banks," the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) observes:
The volume of foreclosures has become a significant problem, not only to local economies, but also to the aesthetics of neighborhoods and property values therein. At the same time, middle- to low-income families continue to be priced out of the housing market while suitable housing units remain vacant.
The booklet goes on to describe an alternative being pursued by some communities: To ameliorate the negative effects of foreclosures, some communities are creating public entities - known as land banks - to return these properties to productive reuse while simultaneously addressing the need for affordable housing.
To read the full article check out – “Occupy the Neighborhood: How Counties Can Use Land Banks and Eminent Domain” by Ellen Brown at Truthout | News Analysis, Saturday 14 January 2012. Here’s the link: http://www.truth-out.org/occupy-neighborhood/1326472096